University of Texas at Austin2014-07-23 2:20 PM

Human Quadrupeds, Primate Quadrupedalism, and Uner Tan Syndrome


Since 2005, an extensive literature documents individuals from several families afflicted with “Uner Tan Syndrome (UTS),” a condition that in its most extreme form is characterized by cerebellar hypoplasia, loss of balance and coordination, impaired cognitive abilities, and habitual quadrupedal gait on hands and feet. Some researchers have interpreted habitual use of quadrupedalism by these individuals from an evolutionary perspective, suggesting that it represents an atavistic expression of our quadrupedal primate ancestry or “devolution.” In support of this idea, individuals with “UTS” are said to use diagonal sequence quadrupedalism, a type of quadrupedal gait that distinguishes primates from most other mammals. Although the use of primate-like quadrupedal gait in humans would not be sufficient to support the conclusion of evolutionary “reversal,” no quantitative gait analyses were presented to support this claim. Using standard gait analysis of 518 quadrupedal strides from video sequences of individuals with “UTS”, we found that these humans almost exclusively used lateral sequence–not diagonal sequence–quadrupedal gaits. The quadrupedal gait of these individuals has therefore been erroneously described as primate-like, further weakening the “devolution” hypothesis. In fact, the quadrupedalism exhibited by individuals with UTS resembles that of healthy adult humans asked to walk quadrupedally in an experimental setting. We conclude that quadrupedalism in healthy adults or those with a physical disability can be explained using biomechanical principles rather than evolutionary assumptions.

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University of Texas at Austin

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